A leading Republican lawmaker proposed legislation this summer that would give Districts residents a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives, a right they currently do not have. While the bill has not been formally introduced, it has already caused a rift among different factions in the D.C. voting rights camp.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis, a Virginia Republican who chairs the Committee on Government Reform, said a bill is in the works that would give the District a House seat and restore one that Utah lost after the 2000 census. The proposal would neutralize gains Democrats could expect to make in the left-leaning District with the addition of a seat in Utah, a Republican bastion.
D.C. is the only territory in the continental United States that has no vote in either chamber of Congress. In the Senate, District residents have no representation, while in the House, a delegate can introduce and debate legislation but cannot vote on it.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a six-term Democratic representative, has come out against Davis’ proposal, despite her persistent calls for District voting representation.
Doxie McCoy, Norton’s press secretary, said Norton has formed a task force to look into the proposal but has always insisted, “voting rights means representatives in the House and Senate.”
McCoy said Norton would reiterate her stance on the bill after its details are finalized.
“We need to know what the pluses and minuses are for the people of D.C. and Utah,” McCoy said.
Earlier this year, Norton introduced the No Taxation Without Representation Act of 2003, which would give the District two seats in the Senate and one in the House. The bill has languished in a subcommittee due to a lack of bipartisan support.
While Democrats, including several presidential candidates, have steadfastly supported Norton’s bill, Republicans are wary of giving the District two Senate seats, a privilege they contend is reserved for states. Davis’ bill could succeed where Norton’s has failed because it bypasses the tricky issue of Senate seats and focuses solely on the House.
Underscoring the tension between traditional allies in the voting rights movement, Mayor Anthony Williams, a Democrat, said he supports Davis’ proposal.
“The mayor has said this sounds like a good, positive development, a big step toward full voting rights,” said Tony Bullok, Williams’ director of communications.
“If we can get this, let’s take it. It moves us down the field,” he added.
Bullok said while Williams supports Norton’s bill, “it doesn’t have a heartbeat. (Davis’ proposal) has a chance of becoming a law.”
“You have to have a sense of reality,” Bullok added. “There’s no way you’re going to get two senators any time soon.”
Another Norton ally, D.C. Vote, which campaigns for voting rights throughout the nation, has also expressed its support for Davis’ proposal but is still pushing for Senate representation.
“We are excited that a major Republican leader in Congress has begun to address this issue,” said Kevin Kiger, the organization’s communications director.
Officials from Davis’ office, who could not be reached for comment, have said in public statements that the bill might include a provision that would combine D.C.’s and Maryland’s presidential electoral votes.
Members of the D.C. Statehood Green Party, which advocates greater District autonomy, said the provision amounts to “retrocession” – shifting control of the city from local officials to Maryland.
“(Davis’s proposal) will derail a significant reform, which is statehood,” said Zoe Mitchell, a party official. “It is deflecting from a larger goal.”
In recent weeks, Davis has met with local leaders to flesh out the bill’s details.
Walter Smith Jr., a constitutional lawyer who sued the federal government for District voting representation and lost, said he explained to Davis’ staff his qualms about coupling a House seat with shuffling the makeup of the electoral college.
Smith said while Davis’ proposal is a “step in the right direction,” it is “not the best approach” because it combines two disparate issues.
He added, “I think they want to move on this pretty promptly, maybe get a vote by the end of the year.”